All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,
With a Love like that,
It lights the
—Hafiz, trans. Daniel Ladinsky
We sat in a wide circle on a warm Saturday afternoon at GWI’s Rooted Resources Festival, and with every new arrival, nearly all of us shifted our chairs here and there to make space for us all to sit comfortably in what became a community circle for the next hour and a half. Builders, farmers, advocates, artists, business owners and enablers, educators, writers, investors and healers—we joined together to reflect on the idea of reciprocity.
The energy was still, at first, as we sat with the sheer expansiveness of the topic. We collectively, almost instinctively, began to talk about what we do know: ledger-based models of reciprocity. So, whether we participate using currency, time, skill sets, or other resources, we are keeping score of every action as a credit or a debit. This capitalistic-informed approach to reciprocity felt transactional, and most importantly, conditional. If it wasn’t tit for tat, then it was a toxic form of help—whereby I have, and you don’t, and so by helping you I am reinforcing your lack and absolved of the guilt I have for my privilege.
This ledger-based approach to reciprocity is also apparent at the institutional level. Those of us who have worked in government, non-profit, and for-profit worlds shared experiences that these institutions account for everything except people’s needs. Funding is determined by the one with the resources, not by the ones with the need. How might we flip this structure on its head?
I sensed frustration, deflation, and stagnation—about the largeness of a system that we as a group could not overturn. We are defining reciprocity—both with people and with institutions—within the context of capitalism, and so will our forms of reciprocity always be bound by a lens of scarcity and toxic individualism? Will we always have a ledger-based system as a band-aid for our distrust of others? With a deep and inherent belief that reciprocity is so much more than this, we called upon the importance of meeting people where they are at and promoting equity for all.
After a pause, an impassioned soul asked “Where have you experienced reciprocity that has worked?”
The mood immediately lifted as we shared personal stories: cooking for friends who offered a place to sleep; a budding, mutual and watchful care between neighbors; ending a relationship with financial certainty to follow an intuition to serve, and trusting that the universe will support. These aren’t transactions, or favors—no one is keeping score, no one is in debt, and what we get back from the universe may not even be from the same person who we cared for, or at the same time we provided that care.
Before there was currency, before there was a ledger, there was gift-giving: doing your part with the community to match resources with needs and trusting that your needs, too, will be met. This form of reciprocity is nourishing—it feeds our souls and reminds us that we are enough; it is unconditional—nothing in return is expected, our needs deserve to be met and we deserve to thrive; and it encompasses all living beings, near and far.
By the end of our time together, I felt a web of connective energy between us. It was enlivening and nurturing—a gift in and of itself—to share in a space that accepted us for who we are and where we are at. This is what we want to cultivate in our communities and institutions.
It wasn’t until Amanda Cassiday (she/her) lived in a rural village in Burkina Faso that she experienced the resilient power of community, and learned that positive, abundant outcomes are not possible without cultivating the conditions that allow individuals, teams, and communities to thrive. For 15 years, this approach has been a driving force in Amanda’s personal and professional life, from facilitating a woman-led microfinance group in Takaledougou that continues to operate today—12 years later—to leading design teams responsible for some of the most successful consumer launches in Johnson & Johnson’s history, bringing purpose and consumer needs to the heart of strategy & innovation. She is a maker, a student of herbalism and permaculture, and a mentor and investor to entrepreneurs. As she continues to take root in Kingston, NY, she is directing her energy locally to support land, community, and small business.